About 16 people turn up for Joanne Faulkner’s drop-in cookery demonstration just off St Stephen’s Green in Dublin on a Thursday morning. The group, consisting mostly of women, is here today to watch Faulkner make two carrot salads – one Moroccan and one Turkish – and a Peruvian white bean and sweet potato stew.
Faulkner busies herself peeling carrots while she casually imparts tips for cooking and healthy eating to her enthusiastic audience. “Remember to roll a lemon before squeezing it and the juices will flow better,” she says. “It’s best not to eat too much of the leaves on celery and beetroot, because they can cause allergies.” She also advises us to drink water before and after meals, not during them. And the best part is that everyone gets to taste what she’s cooked after the 90-minute demonstration.
Aoife McCarthy says she comes to the classes to learn more about healthy eating and healthy living. "I'm a widow and as we advance in years
we need to do something about our health. I love the colour and variety of foods she cooks and it’s sociable to come here too.”
Mukka Cooper says she’s inspired and optimistic when she walks out of the classes. “It’s great to get different ideas for mixing spices, herbs and vegetables. It makes cooking at home more interesting. What I like as well is that she’s not dogmatic about what’s healthy and what’s not,” she says.
Another regular at the classes, Sarah Codd, says she loves the tastes and the flavours. “She introduces us to an interesting combination of spices and I also like the emphasis on health. There is not enough emphasis on the emotions behind illness in western medicine.”
As well as giving cookery demonstrations and catering for residential weekend workshops, Faulkner is a practitioner of Shiatsu and traditional Chinese medicine.
It is this combination of training and passion for food that led her to write Shiatsu & the Art of Conscious Cooking .
The self-published book is an introduction to the seasonal approach to looking after your body and your mind with tasty food, meditation and shiatsu with a sprinkle of Faulkner’s personal philosophy thrown in.
"I see myself as somewhere between Nigella Lawson and [Scottish nutritionist and television presenter] Gillian McKeith. I love Nigella's ease with food and love of comfort food and while I'm inspired by Chinese medicine and the role of food in keeping our emotions and desires in balance, I'm not against any particular foods or over-regimented or disciplined," says Faulkner.
In her book, she brings the reader through the five seasons (spring, high summer, late summer, autumn and winter) as defined by t
raditional Chinese medicine (TCM), their associated organs, emotions, flavours and colours.
For each season she includes recipes that support these organs. She illustrates the book with food photographs, shiatsu pressure point diagrams and her own abstract paintings.
It’s a simplified approach to TCM but the idea of linking certain foods to different seasons will be something most people are already familiar with. For instance, Faulkner suggests raw foods are best eaten in the spring because the body struggles to digest them at other times of the year.
Her summer salad suggestions include one with nasturtium petals, calendula petals, chive heads, violas, baby spinach, watercress and rocket, finely sliced radishes and cherry tomatoes.
She suggests oven-roasted vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnip, butternut squash, beetroot, onions and carrots) are ideal in the autumn and winter months.
And there are plenty of nourishing soups, spicy stews, herbal teas and puddings for each season.
Faulkner writes about how traditionally spring is the time of year for fasting – Christians have Lent and Muslims have Ramadan. “Choose a month in spring to detox by consciously eating less dairy, meat and processed carbohydrates. Make an effort to eat more seeds and nuts. “Use only olive oil and sunflower oil to cook with and try to steam or bake most foods,” she writes.
“Detoxing isn’t about punishing the body. It’s about being good to yourself and increasing vitality.”
Faulkner also examines ways of responding to food cravings. “I have a lot of young mums coming to my classes and they talk about craving chocolate. Sometimes, craving chocolate can be a craving for emotional support and chocolate is a quick fix for this. What many of these mums really need is a hug,” she says.
On her website, Faulkner has an app
shiatsu-consciouscooking.com/app – that people can use to help tune into how they are feeling and how they can meet their personal needs.
“We have to ask ourselves what’s going on emotionally and physically when we are craving certain foods. Sometimes, we will need to meet our needs by having a massage, by meditating, by going out to dance, by meeting a friend. And the recipes will help you use food to learn to care for yourself.”
The concept of yin and yang is also a key to her approach. “Yin is that quiet, still, receptive place from where all action should arise and yang is the energy to move,” she says.
Faulkner encourages those attending her classes to be thankful for food. Many of us are under stress from overthinking and worry creates knots in your stomach.
"Simply being thankful for food before you eat it helps change the focus," she says.
Shiatsu & t he Art of Conscious Cooking by Joanne Faulkner is available on the website, joannefaulkner.org, for € 15.99.